21/08/16 Walk a Mile in My Shoes – it starts with YOU


Talking to Alison Meiklejohn, a non-executive member of the Lothian NHS Board at the letswalkamile event at the Royal Edinburgh (psychiatric) Hospital’s Fete at the weekend, I realised that even with all my experience in all things mental, I’m still prone to making assumptions. 

In amongst our chats about how up to 75% of folk we lock up in prisons have a diagnosed mental health problem; how parity in the funding of mental health services with physical health services still seems a distant dream & other stuff, I’d assumed that attitudes towards mental maladies in the higher echelons would be dazzlingly positive. 

And that, in such a positive climate, access to gold plaited, top quality mental health support would be an unquestioned given. 

Cutting to the chase, and keeping with the climate metaphor, the forecast is, at best, dreich. 

I appreciate this comes from one person’s perspective at a particular time on a given day, but there doesn’t appear to be a culture of openness and honesty with staff in the (psychiatric) hospital – where there appears to be a mass reluctance to declare personal experience of work stress/ anxiety or other mental maladies.

This is combined with, let’s call them lack lustre (my words) mental health services for staff struggling to cope, with long waiting lists and counselling limited to 6 weeks for those who have the courage to cry out for help. 

I’d expected tales of something deluxe – a Gold Standard for others to follow…instead…well, instead it sounds like more of the same…

I’d smiled, ‘You’d hope to get some perks…’ but that doesn’t appear to be the case. 

This is so desperately short sighted – indulge me – type ‘ROI (that’s Return of investment) Mental Health’ in any search engine & take a look at any of the bazillion (or so) studies that show just how many bangs for your buck you get when you invest in mental health care. 

Crazy though this is, it isn’t my biggest bugbear. I don’t think I was naive to believe – to expect – that these guys would be leading the way. 

Surely…?

If this is the organisation’s attitude to the mental health of it’s staff – what view must it have of the people it’s charged to care for? 

I can’t help but think (although I’m open to any alternative suggestions ANYONE might have) that this reflects an othering, us and them, perspective of mental ill health. 

This was, by no means, the attitude that came from Alison – her words and attitudes were thoughtful, inclusive, and non stigmatising. 

It was an pleasure to walk a mile with her. 

The atmosphere was great. 

People were happy and chatty – talking openly about mental health. We walked past the greenhouses, the Cyrenian’s gardens that cost next to nothing, but improved the quality of patient care for so many. 

We caught a glimpse at the new hospital to be, where the patients of the future will be shown respect through their environment, where Victorian multi-bedded dormitories will be a thing of the past…

But will those attitudes change? 

Will that nebulous, ethereal entity that is the organisation adapt with the buildings? 

Which brings me back to the start.

Walk a mile begins with you. If you see or hear something that stigmatises people with mental health problems and you do or say nothing, does that make you complicit with that….something? 

I’m not remotely interested in trying to guilt trip folk into action. 

God knows how difficult I found it to speak out from both within the system, where the wood is often indiscernible from the trees, and from the outside where that forest can seem impenetrable. 

People are fabulous – you’ve proven that time, and time, and time again. 


People – professionals and punters – are willing and able to walk a mile together to start to effect change. 

It won’t happen overnight – and, without overly labouring the point, it starts with you. 


Walk a mile 

Chris

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20/08/16 What if…?

I could have avoided eye contact with the er…brightly dressed, broad smiling, curly headed young (er than me) man who bounced in front of me at the motorway service station on the M6 on Thursday. 

I could have body swerved him, in a way that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Olympic rugby sevens, like my fellow motorway dwellers…

I could have told him a lengthy story about, although we were only going to be in Edinburgh for one night, we were carrying every item of clothing we’d ever owned – just in case, so there was no room at the inn…er, in the inn…the car…

However, I quickly remembered how hitching had been my primary mode of transport in my early 20’s and that I owed the world a little something…

I told the guy, Dennis, and his fellow traveller, Rosie, that I’d have to check with the lovely Ella who was wandering about the place, but as far as I was concerned, we’d be taking them as far as Gretna – they were travelling to a place near Dumfries. 

I caught up with Ella, and, as you can imagine, she looked at me as if I was insane…

‘Of course!’ she happily declared in a, ‘Did you really have to ask?’ kind of way? 

We bundled them in with ‘welcomes’ and ‘thank you’s’ in equal measure. 

A captive audience in a car full of performers! 

How happy was I? 

Dennis and Rosie were coming back to Scotland after travelling around Europe – the conversation started safely, gently….perhaps we were going to judge them? 

They’d been to Greece, Serbia and, finally, Calais…

Thoughts anyone? 

Why would these 2 fine folk take themselves from Scotland to Europe for almost a month? 

To help.  

To do their bit to support the thousands of people who are on the move, who’ve had their lives horribly disrupted by the fucking mess in Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Lybia, Iraq….

I didn’t even think to ask why. I can guess – you can probably guess – but their specific motivations will remain a bit of a mystery. 

They did what they could – they stayed in these transient, temporary camps – doing everything from serving food, building shelters, showing care and compassion, to sorting socks. 

They talked about difficult conditions – about ‘The Jungle’ in Calais – about how it has a high street – water – and shops – and about it’s imminent destruction. 
We told them about walk a mile – they called us ‘inspirational’

Inspirational?! After all they’d been up to – it was all rather lovely. 

What a great experience! What open, delightful, enthusiastic folk.

The hundred and fifty miles with them zipped by. 

All to soon, we were standing on the side of the road, dragging their rucksacks out, and hugging them like long lost friends, wishing them well for the rest of their journey. 

The rest of our Edinburgh road trip flew by as we babbled about what a great experience this simple act of saying, ‘Sure, we’ll give you a lift,’ had given us. 

What if….?

Walk a Mile

Chris

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06/08/16 Shit science and lazy reporting tells us that nearly everyone is a prejudicial bastard

Pitchforks? Check.

Torches? Check.

Hoards of angry villagers? Check.

Shall we begin? 

This week I read an article in the Independent that tells us that 

‘Majority of Britons ‘uncomfortable’ letting someone with mental illness look after their child, study finds’

Driving home the point they were making, just in case we’d missed it with

‘Research suggests deep-rooted stigma against people with mental health issues prevails in the U.K.’

Bastards! 90% of people are still stigmatising people with mental health problems after all we’ve done…

This is obviously yet another case of blind prejudice – why do we fucking bother…?
But let’s look a little closer at the study that generated these claims 

What were people actually being asked? 

People were asked to express their opinions on people with mental health problems based on these 2 paragraphs. 

Scenario 1 – Andy (schizophrenia symptoms):

‘Andy was doing pretty well until six months ago. But then things started to change. He thought that people around him were criticising him and talking behind his back. Andy heard voices even though no one else was around. These voices told him what to do and what to think. Andy couldn’t work any more, stopped joining in with family activities and started to spend most of the day in his room.’

And…

Scenario 2 – Stephen (depression symptoms):

‘Stephen has been feeling really down for about six months and his family have noticed that he hasn’t been himself. He doesn’t enjoy things the way he normally would. He wakes up early in the morning with a flat heavy feeling that stays with him all day long. He has to force himself to get through the day, and even the smallest things seem hard to do. He finds it hard to concentrate on anything and has no energy.’

Are these accurate descriptions of everyone who’s ever experienced mental health problems? 

In 2 paragraphs? 

What about the times when Stephen and/ or Andy asymptomatic? When they are both aware they have a long standing mental health problem – but they aren’t experiencing the symptoms at the moment.

The vast majority of people I know experience mental ill health in a cyclical way – for example, I’m not always lost in a world of dissociation where nothing appears to be real. 

Quite often I’m a rather switched on, empathetic kind of guy. 

At times though, I’m not. 

When folk were responding to this attitudes survey, where they thinking about the 1 in 4 of us who will experience a mental health problem? 

Were they thinking purely about Andy and/ or Stephen? 

Were they thinking about the seemingly endless stream of psychos and maniacs who feature in the myriad (usually) American cop shows?

Or the folk with mental maladies who harm themselves and/ or others who regularly bob up in the mainstream media? 

Perhaps they were thinking about those of us they see as vulnerable souls, who need large organisations to fight our corner, to speak on our behalf? 

Maybe they’re thinking about those benefit scroungers we’re still told so much about? 

They might even be thinking about the swathes of folk with mental health problems with whom they’d love to engage – but for some reason feel they can’t, because they don’t know the right language – perhaps they feel blocked by political correctness?

What about the millions of folk with mental health problems who have children? Do the folk who participated in this study think that they should have their children removed? Or should they receive support? Maybe a bit of both.

Perhaps they considered none of these things – instead imagining the 2 individuals they were presented with in those 2 paragraphs – confined by all the limitations of information that such a quandary presents. 

Perhaps they actually know someone with a mental malady? We do, after all, walk among you. 

There are over 15 million of us in the UK alone. 

This is little more than shonky science, treated as fact by lazy reporting. 
The headline, ‘People don’t want their children looked after by Stephen and Andy when they have limited information about their mental health problems’ isn’t quite so punchy though, is it? 

Do what I do. Get out there. Meet people. Talk to folk. 

Like me, you’ll soon come to realise people are fabulous.

Yes, I know mental health stigma, prejudice and discrimination exist – but that’s for another blog….

Walk a mile

Chris

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09/07/16 You’re an attention seeking…

Imagine you woke up this morning and your world had changed. 

When I say the world, I mean the world’s perception of you. 

You haven’t changed. You’re still the same old…same old…you. 

But something rather weird had happened.

Someone…you’re not sure who…but it’s certainly someone with a lot of clout…has started a small fire with the spark of an idea that you’re attention seeking.

It sounds pretty innocuous, doesn’t it? 

Attention seeking.

What do they mean by that? 

What are they saying about you?

What are they saying about themselves? 

You’re a smart kind of individual, so you look it up. You can’t find it in the library – so you try the Internet. 

There…well, there you can’t find anything definite. There’s no clear outline of what that person must have meant when they said,
‘You are an attention seeker.’

But as sure as eggs is eggs, that label when attributed to someone, anyone, isn’t remotely positive. 

It has taken no time at all for this spark of an idea to become a fire, to roar out of control as it leaps from person to person…some professional, some family…some friends…colleagues…people in the pub…folk in your local shop…neighbours…

Because there’s no accurate definition of ‘attention seeking’, each person has a different notion of what it means.

Try it yourself. Do you know anyone who’s attention seeking? 

What reliable source told you about person X’s ‘attention seekingness’ ? 

What did they mean by it?

What do YOU mean by it?

Who have you told? 

Ok, let’s go back to the beginning. You’ve been labelled as attention seeking. 

Suddenly everything you do is seen as attention seeking. 

Even saying you’re not attention seeking is seen as attention seeking.

There really is no way out of this labyrinth – the harder you try to escape, the deeper and deeper you fall into this infinite whirlpool. 

The reason I’m banging on about this so energetically (some might say, grammatically incorrectly, attention seekingly) is that this is a label that is often attributed to people who’ve been bestowed with the same mental malady as me. 

BP bastard D

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), is an oft used label for people who we don’t like….or, in the case of an array of American Cop Shows, the person wot dunnit. 

Adding ‘attention seeking’ to an already negative label isn’t, what I’d call, entirely useful.

You can play this at home – get a friend to give you the label for a day…suddenly every single thing you do has a negative connotation.

Everything. 

I might be wrong – I’ve been wrong before, although I don’t tend to advertise that. Call it er…unattention seeking….but 

I believe there is no label in the world of psychiatry, health care, social care, or general name calling that is more negative, stigmatising and ultimately discriminating than ‘Attention Seeking’

It’s a label with no way out. There is no escape. 

It is utterly, utterly useless.

It helps no-one. 

Don’t use it!

If someone you know describes someone with the label, challenge them.

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘How can person X ever escape that label? 

What do they need to do to be not attention seeking?’

As a mental exercise you could ask, ‘Aren’t we all attention seeking?’ 

Walk a mile

Chris

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09/07/16 You’re an attention seeking…

Imagine you woke up this morning and your world had changed. 

When I say the world, I mean the world’s perception of you. 

You haven’t changed. You’re still the same old…same old…you. 

But something rather weird had happened.

Someone…you’re not sure who…but it’s certainly someone with a lot of clout…has started a small fire with the spark of an idea that you’re attention seeking.

It sounds pretty innocuous, doesn’t it? 
Attention seeking.

What do they mean by that? 

What are they saying about you?

What are they saying about themselves? 

You’re a smart kind of individual, so you look it up. You can’t find it in the library – so you try the Internet. 

There…well, there you can’t find anything definite. There’s no clear outline of what that person must have meant when they said,
‘You are an attention seeker.’

But as sure as eggs is eggs, that label when attributed to someone, anyone, isn’t remotely positive. 

It has taken no time at all for this spark of an idea to become a fire, to roar out of control as it leaps from person to person…some professional, some family…some friends…colleagues…people in the pub…folk in your local shop…neighbours…

Because there’s no accurate definition of ‘attention seeking’, each person has a different notion of what it means.

Try it yourself. Do you know anyone who’s attention seeking? 

What reliable source told you about person X’s ‘attention seekingness’ ? 

What did they mean by it?

What do YOU mean by it?

Who have you told? 

Ok, let’s go back to the beginning. You’ve been labelled as attention seeking. 

Suddenly everything you do is seen as attention seeking. 

Even saying you’re not attention seeking is seen as attention seeking.

There really is no way out of this labyrinth – the harder you try to escape, the deeper and deeper you fall into this infinite whirlpool. 

The reason I’m banging on about this so energetically (some might say, grammatically incorrectly, attention seekingly) is that this is a label that is often attributed to people who’ve been bestowed with the same mental malady as me. 

BP bastard D

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), is an oft used label for people who we don’t like….or, in the case of an array of American Cop Shows, the person wot dunnit. 

Adding ‘attention seeking’ to an already negative label isn’t, what I’d call, entirely useful.

You can play this at home – get a friend to give you the label for a day…suddenly every single thing you do has a negative connotation.

Everything. 

I might be wrong – I’ve been wrong before, although I don’t tend to advertise that. Call it er…unattention seeking….but 

I believe there is no label in the world of psychiatry, health care, social care, or general name calling that is more negative, stigmatising and ultimately discriminating than ‘Attention Seeking’

It’s a label with no way out. There is no escape. 

It is utterly, utterly useless.

It helps no-one. 

Don’t use it!

If someone you know describes someone with the label, challenge them.

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘How can person X ever escape that label? 

‘What do they need to do to be not attention seeking?’

As a mental exercise you could ask, ‘Aren’t we all attention seeking?’ 

Walk a mile

Chris

Posted in inequality, mental health, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

09/07/16 Democracy in action.

Steve was buying a brand new car – a bright red Hoojamaflip.

Some motoring magazines extolled the virtues of it’s shiny redness.

How it had a steering wheel and a gear stick that really put YOU in control. 

And it’s so economic – over 100 miles to the gallon. 
(Whaddya mean ‘what’s a gallon?’ Ask your grand/ parents) 

When Steve bowled up to the garage, the salesman was really leaning against an open door…

‘Yes, this is a purely British car, made by British people, for British people,’ he purred as he pointed at the vast array of posters, handing out the shiny brochures that showed just what a wonderful purchase the bright red Hoojamaflip was. 

Our engineers are not only enthusiastic, but great value for money. 

‘Oh, and we have a great finance deal…just sign here…’

Steve was delighted. What more could he want – he was in control…and all the adverts said…well, just look at how red and shiny it is.

He spoke with his friends…in reality he’d made his own decision – this was the car of his dreams – most of them agreed, but there were a few nay sayers who’d read…
But what did they know? They were probably just jealous. 

Well, the day came when Steve’s bright red Hoojamaflip was delivered. And oh, what a thing of great beauty it was. 

Shiny and, my God, did Steve feel in control…

So proud was he, that he decided to show it off to his friends across the world of social media. He still had a few friends banging on about some report or other they’d read about the Hoojamaflip, and how it might not be…

Why did they have to keep going on about it?

The following day, Steve went down to his garage to gaze upon the beauty that was…

He sat down in the driver’s seat…snuggled in…caressed the gearstick…enjoying the moment…
He turned on the ignition…he was surprised to hear a weird grinding noise…no worries…perhaps it just needs running in?

He took it for a short drive around the beautiful British countryside. 

He was further surprised when his shiny red Hoojamaflip ground to a halt. 
He phoned for assistance and a lovely mechanic came out, concluding in a matter of seconds, ‘You’ve run out of fuel,’

‘But…but…I only filled it yesterday…I was told that it would go a hundred miles to the gallon (I told you to ask your parents) 

But that was the truth of the matter. He’d run out of fuel.

The mechanic put some petrol in the tank and said, ‘Try it now…’

Steve turned the ignition, the Hoojamaflip made a weird noise followed by a BANG as all the wheels fell off.

‘No worries,’ smiled the mechanic, ‘I can take you back to the garage, perhaps they can…’ 

Steve was surprised when he got back to the garage, all the posters and brochures that extolled the positive features of his lovely, shiny red car had gone…there were no pamphlets anywhere in this strangely grey dealership. 

He walked up to the counter and was met by two middle aged women.

‘How can we help?’ they said in unison (ironic really) 

Steve explained the day’s events, hoping to get to the bottom of his plight.
‘Who sold you the Hoojamaflip?’ the women smiled together.

Steve scratched his chin, ‘I’m not sure, but I think his name rhymes with garage..’

Their heads tilted together, ‘Gone, we’re afraid…resigned..’

‘What about his boss? He was a personable sort with…’

‘Blonde hair?’ they chorused 

He nodded.

‘Gone…’ they smiled.

‘Oh…what about the creepy guy who hung about with…?’

‘Gove…I mean, Gone…they empathised…’

‘Bugger…I’m going to write to the CEO, unless he’s…’

‘…going…they laughed together…’

‘Can YOU help then…?’ Steve suddenly felt really tired. 

‘To be fair…’ they started…

‘Yes…?’ he said eagerly

‘It was ‘Sold as seen’ ‘

‘Sorry?’ Steve spluttered.

‘Sold as seen..’ they nodded sagely.

‘But I demand a refund!!’

‘Sold as seen…’ they whispered.

‘But all the posters and glossy brochures said…’

‘Not ours….’ they shrugged together, and then, just in case he’d forgotten, they mouthed, ‘Sold. As. Seen…’

‘You…you…charlatans…’ he started.

‘We’re so glad you came in’ one of the women said whilst nodding to the other.

‘Yes,’ her colleague (?) nodded, ‘Yes, your shiny red Hoojamaflip…’

‘Yes…?’ Steve replied nervously…

‘…is a little more expensive than you’d been told…’

‘What???!’ he started with more than a little incredulity. And then, nervously…’…more expensive?’

‘A little,’ they smiled back.

‘A little….?’ Steve was fighting back the tears.

‘A billion times…’ they nodded confidently. 

‘But I signed a financial agreement….!’

‘Yes, and thank you for that – that gives us the flexibility to….’

‘But I didn’t realise…!!’

Together, they smiled…

Steve negotiated with the mechanic to take his shiny red Hoojamaflip back to his house.

He proudly parked it in his drive at the front of his house for all to see.

He didn’t want anyone to think he’d done the wrong thing.

When his friends asked if they could go for a drive in his car, he just smiled and, although the bitter consequence of cognitive dissonance was churning in his stomach, reminded them just how shiny and beautiful his facade was. 

The end.

Or the beginning?

And yes, you’re absolutely right, from now on he’ll have to…

Walk a mile

Chris

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02/07/16 I fucking HATE you

I fucking hate you. What in the name of God made you vote for that bunch of self serving, back stabbing, fucking wankers?
How fucking dare you challenge my hard won beliefs and thoughts. 

Who the fuck do you think you are? What gives YOU the right to belittle my fears? 
You’re misinformed! You’re stupid! You’re a fucking idiot – I mean, how the hell could you fall for their lies? 

Tory!

Socialist!

Corbynite! 

UKIP voter! 

Fascist

Racist

Black 

White

Christian

Muslim

Old

Young

Now remove the word ‘bastard’ from the tail end of your object of hate.

BREXIT!!!

Did you see that Leicester City won the premiership? 

But I’m not interested in football…

But yeah, now you mention it, it was pretty cool that the underdogs..

Did you see those football fans in France though?

English/ Russian thugs…!

I can’t believe the Welsh voted us out of…

Did you see the match last night though? 
They beat Belgium – currently – on paper – they are the second best team in in the world…!

Did you hear their fans singing? 

Personally, I was bubbling….well, I might have had something in my eye…

I was grinning like a…

I went on the Internet to look up ‘I am Wales/ Welsh/ a Welshman…’

Je suis Cymru or some such.

Why? Why would I feel such emotional connection with this hotch potch band of young men chasing what, in years gone by, was a gathering of leather hexigons wrapped around a rubber bladder, around a field? 

I’m a ScotEngBrit atheist, europhile with blue eyes, a mental health problem and a passion for loads of stuff that has fuck all to do with football or Wales. 

What in the name of Ryan Giggs make me feel so passionately about…

It was so easy.

It was as natural as breathing.

No, I didn’t hate the Belgians – I felt an affinity – whatever that was – with the Welsh. 

I know I’m not the only one. 

Stop. Fucking. Hating.

If you find yourself going down that slippery slope of hating someone you know almost nothing about….

STOP!!!

THINK!!

Find out more about them – whoever THEY are…

Not from folk who hate them.

From THEM.

Ask them – whoever they are – don’t tell them what they think or how they feel. 

Don’t belittle them with smart arse comments.

Don’t glory in your difference.

Don’t distance yourself from them. 

Try walking a mile in their shoes.

Better still – try this little trick.

Imagine you’re them. Take a look at the world from that perspective. 

Argue THEIR case. 

Find out how that feels.

It really doesn’t have to be this way.

I quite like you really…

Yes, yes, even you…

I only said I fucking hate you for dramatic effect….

No, really…

Walk a mile

Chris 

Posted in economy, inequality, mental health, Uncategorized, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments